Retail news from around the globe

LA retailers hit by looting, destruction

As angry Americans take to the streets to protest against the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a policeman, US cities are plunging into chaos across the country.

 Women’s Wear Daily reported on luxury retailers boarding up their stores on Rodeo Drive as the famous shopping strip closed down for fear of the riots. Many of the stores had only just slowly started to reopen a few days earlier as a result of the pandemic, only to be shut on Saturday.

In Los Angeles, the upmarket shopping district of Santa Monica has also been rocked by vandalism and looting and retailers are facing losses and great uncertainty about their future.

The Los Angeles Times reported that for more than four hours on Sunday afternoon over the weekend, there was a frenzy of looting and destruction throughout the area.

At Santa Monica Place, an open-air mall normally catering to well-heeled shoppers, numerous retailers including Louis Vuitton had their windows smashed with hammers and stock stolen.

Looters also ransacked Vans, carrying away shoes and skateboards. Minutes later, a couple of blocks away, a skateboard was used to smash the windows of a pharmacy and a jewellery store.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Sunday imposed an overnight curfew for a second night in the wake of the worst unrest in the city in decades, warning millions of residents and would-be protesters that they could be arrested if they ventured outside after 8pm.

HK retailers signal major distress

As Beijing seeks to rein in Hong Kong and bring it under its full control, the city’s retail sector says it too is “a crucial, life-and-death moment of survival”.

The main retail body, Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA), sent an open letter to chief executive Carrie Lam asking for government intervention and broad economic reforms.

“Although HK’s economy has always been market-leading, the current economy is weak. Investments, consumption and exports have fallen sharply, the worst ever rate recorded in history,” group chair Annie Yau Tse told Lam in the letter.  

HKRMA research projects 16,000 retail stores will close across the territory this year. And in February and March, during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, sales plunged by more than 40 per cent.   

The city’s high rent is a pressing issue, and Tse called on Lam to take action to force a suspension of rental payments and prevent landlords from taking back store premises for at least nine months.

H&M to bring back furloughed staff

H&M’s 2500 workers who were stood down from its Stockholm HQ in March will return to work in July, as the fast fashion retailer seeks to get back onto its pre-pandemic trajectory, Reuters reports.

The group said sales have tumbled during the pandemic due to the widespread store closures, and it warned that it will make its first loss in decades in the March-May quarter.

In the early days of the pandemic, H&M temporarily laid off tens of thousands of employees worldwide, but it has since been gradually reopening stores.

H&M reopened all of its Australian stores on May 17, but some 1500 of its roughly 5000 stores remain temporarily closed, which is down from around 4000 at the height of the pandemic.

UK grocery sales move online

Britons spent a record £1.2 billion ($2.23 billion) buying groceries online during the four-week period up to May 16 as they shunned supermarket trips during the coronavirus lockdown, Reuters reports.

Food sales showed resistance during the downturn, when most of UK retail struggled. Sales overall were down almost 20 per cent in April.

The figures are devastating, as some three million Britons are employed in retail, and household expenditure, of which retail sales is a major component, accounts for two-thirds of national output, The Guardian reported.

For the grocery market, industry data showed that the online share of 13 per cent in the four weeks to May 16 was up from 7 per cent at the same time last year and 10 per cent higher than in April.

Market researcher Nielsen said 7.9 million British households placed an online grocery order, up from 4.8 million during the same period last year, including 1.1 million new online shoppers.

John Lewis tips first wave of restarts

UK retailer John Lewis will gradually begin reopening its 50 department stores from June 15, following the government’s green light for non-essential retail, Reuters reports.

Two of the retailer’s stores are to open on the day, with three more 11 days later, the Guardian reports, with others to follow if all goes well and customers are satisfied.

The retailer says it will introduce more rigorous and frequent cleaning, caps on the number of customers entering stores, a reduced number of entrances, prominent social distancing signage and protective screens at checkouts and store areas, where two metres of social distancing cannot be achieved between customers and employees.

It also plans to keep fitting rooms closed and not offer beauty treatments for the time being.

Other measures being considered include virtual queueing systems, drop boxes for returned goods and enabling the collection of online orders in stores’ car parks.

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